October 13, 2020

Asia

MALAYSIA: The Wait Goes On, but Maybe for Not Much Longer

BY Bob Herrera-Lim

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Today’s meeting between Anwar Ibrahim and Malaysia’s king failed to resolve the question of whether the opposition leader has the support of a majority in the 222-seat parliament in his bid to unseat Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. According to a palace statement, Anwar only gave the numbers of MPs that supposedly support him, but not their names. In a later press conference, Anwar said that he had at least 120 MPs behind him.
Anwar said the king will over the next two days meet with the leaders of the country’s political parties to verify his claimed numbers. Given that only one or two parties could either confirm Anwar’s claim or render it baseless, Malaysia may not have much longer to wait. The longer the issue drags on, however, the weaker Anwar’s claim will appear.
One media report said that the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) have already been invited to the palace. But DAP is part of Anwar’s opposition coalition while MIC, which is part of the former ruling National Front (BN) coalition, has only one MP — so these are not the parties to watch.
Although no MP from the pro-government coalition has openly come out as supporting Anwar, the speculation is that if his claim is true, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) could be the source of his defectors. UMNO has 39 seats in parliament and could single-handedly flip the majority to Anwar. UMNO’s members are reportedly unhappy with coalition partner Bersatu, whose departure from the Alliance of Hope coalition led to the collapse of the Mahathir government in February. Both UMNO and Bersatu have the same Malay bases, making them potential competitors in the next general elections.
The gap between the two parties worsened after the Sabah state elections on 26 September, where Bersatu was able to have its candidate become chief minister, while UMNO had to back off from contesting some of its strongholds. However, UMNO seems to be split on the issue of what to do next — some members want to strengthen its relationship with the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) but others seem to prefer Anwar. The other potential main source of Anwar defectors is the Sarawak Parties Alliance (GPS), a regional party, with 18 seats in parliament.